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Ernesto Laclau “Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy?”

Laclau, Ernesto 2007. Bare Life or Social Indeterminacy? – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 11-22.

This is the perspective from which we want to question Agamben’s theoretical approach: his genealogy is not sensitive enough to structural diversity and, in the end, it risks ending in sheer teleology. (12)

[…] the ban holds together bare life and sover eignty. And it is important for Agamben to point our that the ban is not simply a sanctio n-which as such would still be representable within the order of the city-but that it involves abandonment: the homo sacer and the other figures that Agamben associates w him are simply left outside any communitarian order. That is why he can be killed bm nor sacrificed. In that sense the ban is non-relational: their victims are lef t to their own separatedness. This is for Agamben the originary political relation, linked to sovereignty. It is a more originary extraneousness than that of the foreigner, who still has an assigned place within the legal order. (13)

[…] has not Agamben chosen just one of those possibilities and hypostatized it so rhar it assumes a unique character? (14)

What remains as valid from the notion of ban as defined by Agamben is the idea of an uninscribable exteriority, bur the range of situations to which it applies is much wider than those subsumable under the category of homo sacer. I think that Agamben has not seen the problem of the inscribable/uninscribable, of inside/outside, in its true universality. In actual fact, what the mutual ban between opposed laws describes is the constitutive nature of any radical antagonism – radical in the sense that its two poles cannot be reduced to any super-game which would be recognised by them as an objective meaning to which both would be submitted. (15)

[…] it is enough that we introduce some souplesse within the Hobbesian scheme, that we accept that society is capable of some partial self -reg ulation, to im mediately sec that its demands are going to be more than those deriving from bare lif e, that they are going to have a variety and specificity that no “sovereign” power can simply ignore. When we arrive at that point, however, the notion of “sovereignty” starts shading into that of “hegemo ny.” This means that, in my view, Agamben has clouded the issue, fo r he has presented as a political moment what actually amounts to a radical elimination of the poli tical: a sovereign power which reduces the social bond to bare life. (16)

What is, anyway, wrong in the argument about a rigid opposition between political sovereignty and bare lif e is the assumption that it necessarily involv es an increasing control by an over-powerful state. All that is involved in the notion of a politicization of “natural” lif e is that in creasing areas of social lif e are submitted to processes of human control and regulation, but it is a non sequitur to assume that such a control has to crystallize around a tendentially totalitarian instance. (18)

This teleologism is, as a matter of fact, the symmetrical pendant of the “ethymologism” we have ref erred to at the beginning of this essay. Their combined effect is to divert Agamben’s attention from the really relevant question, which is the system of’ s truc tural possibilities that each new situation opens. The most summary exam ination of that system would have revealed that: (1) the crisis of the “automatic rules fo r the inscription of lif e” has freed many more entities than “bare lif e,” and that the reduction of the latter to the former takes place only in some extreme circumstances that cannot in the least be considered as a hidden pattern of modernity; (2) that the process of social regulation to which the dissolution of the “automatic rules of inscription” opens the way involved a plurality of instances that were far from unified in a single unity called “the State”; (3) that the process of State building in modernity has involved a far more complex dialectic between homogeneity and heterogeneity than the one that Agamben’s “camp-based” paradigm reflects. (21-22)

By unifying the whole process of modern political construction around the extreme and absurd paradigm of the concentration camp, Agamben does more than present a distorted history: he blocks any possible exploration of the emancipatory possibilities opened by our modern heritage. (22)

To be beyond any ban and any sovereignty means, simply, to be beyond politics. The myth of a fu lly reconciled society is what governs the (non-)political discourse of Agamben. And it is also what allows him to dismiss all political options in our societies and to unify them in the concentration camp as their secret destiny . Instead of deconstructing the logic of political institutions, showing areas in which fo rms of struggle and resistance are possible, he closes them beforehand through an essentialist unification. Political nihilism is his ultimate message. (22)